Aug 21 2009 6:00pm

RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Last night, former Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast members and current RiffTrax masterminds Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) gathered in Nashville, Tennessee to riff, live, the classic bad movie Plan 9 from Outer Space—“The Citizen Kane of bad movies,” one of the guys dubbed it as it started.  The whole production—including a brand new short and musical interludes—was simulcast to over 400 movie theaters across the US, including New York’s Union Square Regal Cinemas, where your humble narrator caught the sold-out show. (See Genevieve’s post from last month for a bit more background.)

Let’s talk set-up for a minute: the riffers sat on a stage in front of the Nashville screen. Cameras were stationed throughout their audience, so we saw not just the movies and those on-stage, but audience reactions as well. Video of the three hosts was periodically projected to the left of the movies, so we could watch them react and gesture. It was bizarre to hear the robots’ voices coming out of thoroughly human mouths.

The opening short was “Flying Stewardess,” a ’50s informational video about training to be a stewardess during the golden age of flying—“which lasted for two weeks,” host Veronica Belmont deadpanned as she introduced the video. Among their duties was cooking chicken dinners in the cabin for the three out of four passengers who, the film told us, wanted to eat on their flight. “Those three have never had airline meals,” joked one of the guys. (Sorry, I don’t know which one. I had a hard enough time scribbling notes in the dark of the theater without keeping track of who said what.)

The musical guest, geek idol Jonathan Coulton, performed “The Future Soon” and “Re: Your Brains.” “You know how they talk about further ado?” Coulton said when he got to the mike. “That’s me.” But we weren’t so anxious to get to the main feature that we couldn’t enjoy his show. For the latter song the audience was encouraged to participate by singing the zombie chorus: “All we want to do is eat your brains.” Coulton reassured those who weren’t inclined to sing, “There’s no need to be embarrassed, everyone will look foolish at the same time.” The camerapeople seemed to be as entertained as the rest of us were (or, at least, I was) by the enthusiastic fans who knew every word of Coulton’s songs, and gave us plenty of footage of them singing along. Kevin Murphy assisted by pretending to eat Coulton’s brains.

Then Nelson, Murphy, Corbett, and Coulton sang about the eight plans that came before Plan 9, and then it was time for “Plan 9 from Outer Space and us saying stuff!” Let’s hope a DVD version is released at some point, because this movie belongs on your shelf right next to other MST3k classics like (not that I play favorites or anything) “Space Mutiny,” “Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell,” “Puma Man,” and, of course, “Manos: The Hands of Fate.” The riffs were definitely up to snuff. When we see four people climbing out of the tomb in which Bela Lugosi’s character has just been buried: “It’s a clown crypt!” When flying saucers cruise by giant mountains and smaller buildings, remaining mysteriously the same apparent size: “The aliens have repealed the laws of perspective.” When several characters stand stock-still as their friend is attacked: “Neither running nor defending yourself had been invented yet.”

Then there are, of course, the little details that make Plan 9 the movie it is: people walking randomly off-screen. The scenes that mysteriously take place both at night and during the day. The (in)famous replacement of Bela Lugosi, who died during filming, with a much taller actor who simply covers his face with his cape for all his scenes.

All in all, it was a fabulous geekfest of an evening. Let’s hope the sold-out shows indicate that the venture was a financial success, and this won’t be the last time we’ll get to see Rifftrax on the big screen.

Since I’ve been given a forum in which to satisfy my curiosity, I’d love to hear from fans in other cities: what was the crowd in your theater like? How was the zombie singing? Was anyone actually in Nashville? (If so, and if I can perfect my time-travel-slash-body-swapping machine... what’s your address?) Other New York viewers are, of course, encouraged to chime in as well.

Ellen B. Wright lives in New York, where she works in publishing and takes an excessive number of pictures. She loves bad movies and good books.

1. ninamazing
WOOO! Awesome awesome awesome, all around. What a great night — the simulcast was an excellent idea. I was in Ballston, near Washington D.C., and we all TOTALLY sang along with "Re: Your Brains." :D
2. EmilyK
I'm so sad I missed it! Sounds like a lot of fun.
3. Christie Yant
I saw it at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. It did not sell well, unfortunately; and being on the west coast we did not get to see it 'simultaneously' with the rest of you, but rather on a three-hour delay, which brought the participatory aspect of it down to near zero.

I got the impression that most of the people in the audience with us didn't know who Coulton was.

There were also technical problems. The feed crapped out several times. People tried to make the best of it after the third time - there was a group "Awwwwww..." when it went down, followed by a group "Yay!" when it came back on. Rinse, repeat.

The timing for this area was unfortunate - UCSB isn't back in session until next week. I think if it had happened mid-September it would have been a much higher turn-out. I am afraid that if they do have future events it won't make it back to my area... but I'll hope.
Ellen B. Wright
4. ellenw
Christie Yant @ 3: What a shame! Yours is the first report I've heard from a theater that wasn't sold out (not that my sample is huge). The 3-hour delay thing is rotten, though I guess they would have had an even smaller audience at 5 PM instead of 8 PM.

When did your technical problems occur? We did have a couple of transmission blips, but they were before Plan 9 started and didn't last very long; I've heard the Washington, DC, theater had the same problem, so maybe it was universal.

Thanks for chiming in!
5. LemonTango
I'm so glad my dear friend bought an extra two tickets for me and my husband for the Union Square theater show in NY. The event was sold out and we would have been left out in the cold...err...swamp heat.

Favorite line from "Flying Stewardesses" (as the camera shows a man in a suit, trench coat in his arm, carrying a briefcase and disembarking the plane): "Hi, Bob Executive. Which way is Business?"

Best part of Plan 9? The hysterical use of guns as tools for scratching your cheek, adjusting your hat, indicating direction, and any other fathomable hand gesture.

I'm ready for the next RiffTrax event. Please come to NY for the live show! Please!
6. Jon43
The theater I saw it at (Deerpark, IL) wasn't sold out, but there were probably 4 or 5 theaters showing it within 20-30min of each other. I would say there was between 50 - 100 people in the theater. I friend of mine saw it at another theater and had a much bigger crowd. The show was great and everyone laughed throughout. I really hope they can do this again. I will definitely be there next time.
7. James C. Wallace II
Unfortunately, I missed it as well. I love MST3K. My only hope is that they will consider doing a reprise of ... "Manos: Hands of Fate"

The worst movie ever made!
James Pickering
8. djezp2009
Saw the movie here in Lewisville, Texas just one of the many theaters in the Dallas area. Our theater was not sold out but it came close. We got a big kick out of the Fort Worth references in the short, especially when they exited the plane into the 104 degree temperature with 98 percent humidity at 7am. Welcome to Texas, ya'll! The crowd here also didn't seem to know Colton, but enjoyed the music none the less. Once the movie kicked off, it was non-stop giggles and out-right laughter. I really miss MST3K, but this works for me. Can't wait for more.
Chris Meadows
9. Robotech_Master
Saw it at the Hollywood 14 in Springfield, MO. Over half the seats sold prior to the event; the theater was about 3/4 full at time of show. We had a lot of fun singing along, and it was really great to see a riff with a full-sized audience who laughed along.

Incidentally, whether the live version of the riff is ever released or not, you can buy Mike Nelson's solo riff of Plan 9 (which was also included on the Plan 9 colorized DVD release a few years back) or the pre-recorded "three riffer version" as downloadable MP3s or video-on-demand files from Not having seen them, I don't know how much was changed for the live version. (Though I expect the gags referencing back to "Flying Stewardess" were new for the live version.)
Ellen B. Wright
10. ellenw
LemonTango @ 5: I'm glad you brought up some of my favorite things I didn't mention in the post -- particularly the guns-as-pointing-devices, the hilarity of which is hard to capture in text but endures in my memory.

djezp2009 @ 8: Wasn't it at 4 AM? We got a kick out of the Ft. Worth references, so I'm glad to hear you all did, too -- and hey, the plane took off from LaGuardia, so our cities are linked by MST3k.

Robotech_Master @ 9: I've also heard about but not seen the earlier riffs of Plan 9; I've heard a lot of the jokes are repeated but there are some new ones. That'd be a good substitute, though I still hope they're planning on releasing this version for sale!
I saw it in Alexandria, VA. The theater was about 80% full. I took my 15 year old son as I figured it was high time he was introduced to MST3K.
James Pickering
12. djezp2009
ellenw @ 10: your right it was 4 am and I also wanted to mention that before and after Fort Worth, they show lots of mountains, but we don't have anything like that near here. Everyone in the theater kept laughing every time they showed the mountains that didn't exist.

MST3K - bringing cities together!
13. NanoRiffite
The guys at rifftrax also have a forum, and there's a number of discussions there about the Live event:,191.0.html

(including comments on what audiences were like at different theaters, or what kind of technical problems were seen at the various locations)

As a guess, I'd say that the live-event version had maybe 70-80% of the same jokes as the 3-riffer "VOD" (video-on-demand) version that rifftrax has been selling for awhile now. So there were enough new jokes that the live event had fun surprises for those who had already memorized the VOD version.
14. NanoRiffite
There's also a lot of comments at:

(which, in fact, is where I found out about this review! :-)
15. sofrina
i've not seen this movie, but how could it be worse than "twilight?"
Ellen B. Wright
16. ellenw
NanoRiffite @ 13, 14: Thanks for the links, and for the info on the old version. I think I'll have to get a copy and compare for myself, too!

sofrina @ 15: Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Seriously, though, while I'd be first in line to argue that Twilight is not a very good movie in most ways, its production values are vastly better than Plan 9's. For example! Each character is played by only one actor throughout. Each scene takes place during either the night or day, not both. It's amazing how attention to details like that can improve a movie.

Given my druthers, though, I'd choose to rewatch Plan 9 over Twilight any day.
17. sofrina
ellenw -

if "twilight" employed some of the things that are wrong with "plan 9" it would be a better movie. especially having other actors play the leads. so what if he's her dad and her boyfriend?

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